As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to force millions of girls into child marriages, Senator Win Gatchalian reiterated the urgency of raising the age of sexual consent as one of the measures to combat this form of gender-based violence and human rights violation.
A child marriage is a marriage of a boy or a girl before the age of 18, though the practice affects more girls than boys, with one in 25 boys marrying before they reach the age of 18, according to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).
In its Global Girlhood Report 2020 released this month, international charity organization Save the Children said that up to 2.5 million girls around the world are at risk of marriage in the next five years because of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including school closures and economic insecurities. Last April, the UNFPA warned that economic hardships and disruptions to programs on gender-based violence could result in up to 13 million more child marriages in the next 10 years.
According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Philippines has the 12th highest number of child brides in the world. Meanwhile, the age of sexual consent in the Philippines is 12 years old, the lowest in Asia and the second lowest in the world.
Gatchalian, who originally proposed to raise the age of sexual consent to 18 in Senate Bill No. 739, said that amending the law on statutory rape will be helpful in combating sexual violence and abuse that result from child marriages.
The Senate recently approved on second reading a proposed measure to end child marriages in the country. Panels from both the House of Representatives and the Senate also approved proposals to raise the age of sexual consent to 16.
“Ang mga kabataan ay dapat nag-aaral upang magkaroon sila ng mas magandang kinabukasan. Hindi dapat napuputol ang kanilang mga pangarap dahil napipilitan silang magpakasal at magkaroon ng responsibilidad sa pamilya nang maaga,” said Gatchalian, Chairman of the Senate Committee on Basic Education, Arts and Culture.
“Dahil mas maraming mga panganib ang kinakaharap ng ating mga kabataan sa gitna ng pandemya, lalo nating dapat paigtingin ang mga hakbang laban sa ano mang uri ng karahasan at pang-aabuso,” he added.
Gatchalian also reiterated the importance of ensuring continued provision of child protection programs and reproductive health services to protect vulnerable girls from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawmaker also emphasized the importance of comprehensive sexuality education since early marriage and family matters are considered the top reasons why girls aged six to 24 are not attending school as reported by the Annual Poverty Indicators Survey 2017.